“And, while expressing gratitude seems innocent enough, it is a revolutionary idea. In a consumer society, contentment is a radical proposition. Recognizing abundance rather than scarcity undermines an economy that thrives by creating unmet desires. Gratitude cultivates an ethic of fullness, but the economy needs emptiness… Gratitude doesn’t send you shopping to find satisfaction; it comes as a gift rather than a commodity, subverting the foundation of the whole economy. That’s good medicine for land and people alike.”
–Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
I have started and stopped this entry a bunch of times. I keep writing something and then deleting it. Adding photos and deleting them. Trying to explain what I’m trying to say here without overdoing it.
You know, I so don’t want to be that voice that hits you over the head with some kind of “This is how you do it!” motive. You get enough of that everywhere else; I’d like you to visit here and breathe with me, find respite in my world in the same way that I do every morning that I awake and look out the window. I want to bring all of this to you, because I love it. I don’t want to change you. That’s not what this is about at all. This is a personal blog, and unlike other outlets for me where I do so totally have an opinion about the way things should be done, this is not that space. Or at least it is not intended to be. (Although, I do tell you to grow a salsa garden. That’s true. Because salsa. Right?!) But beyond offering a few recipes and how-to’s, that’s just not what this space is about.
So I think I’ll just do what I know how to do: Write it down. My tactic will be to break up all my words with some photos. Hopefully that will help with the block-text style of this post.
Where do I begin? Do I begin with the weeks of smoky skies we’ve had here, blocking out the sun and covering our porches and windows with ash? Do I begin with the weeding and planting I was choosing to do outside, while pondering a post I’d read on Facebook by a friend asking us to remember to thank the farmers, because they can’t take a break from the smoke even if they want to–installing air filters for the bad air isn’t a possibility for them; only masks will help, and if they don’t tend to the food, their livelihoods will suffer, and all the food will go to waste? Do I begin with the story of a mourning orca mama who carried her dead baby for 17 days as a plea to the world? Do I begin with the story of the Gangsta Gardener Ron Finley who decided enough was enough, no more unhealthy fast-food dollar menus in his South Central neighborhood in LA, he was going to start teaching people how to grow their own food and feed their bodies with health, not junk, turning farming into a mantra of freedom from an oppressive system?
I’ll begin with yesterday. While this has been percolating in my mind for months, yesterday is when this post really took form.
Yesterday I decided to take the kids school shopping. They need a few things, like shoes and a couple of pairs of new jeans and shirts, before school begins. The kids grew a lot this summer, and their ankles are starting to show in most of their pants, and their feet grew another size each. But beyond that, we’re not going hog wild on new clothes this year. Been there, done that, and it backfires every time. (And I have the laundry pile to prove it.) We’re going to wait until October or so and go shopping again for whatever it is they need, because they are going to grow a whole bunch more between now and then. And they’ll also likely have stronger opinions at that point about what they want to keep them cozy and comfortable and cute and all of that.
Before shopping, we visited my mom and looked at the new installations of prints she has framed on her wall, all of which have been culled from treasured books that belonged to her mom and dad. And she has a newly-decorated entryway with an antique piece from my great-grandma.
My mom’s place isn’t full of kids’ toys. Brooks went straight to the small stack of dice on the coffee table and spent the better part of the visit stacking them and knocking them over, counting them, battling with them, and then sat and played chess with my mom’s boyfriend for the rest of the visit.
My mom’s house is filled with sentimental, simple things. That’s enough. It’s more than enough. It’s lucky beyond measure.
While we visited, I found myself wanting to curl up on her well-made bed and take a long nap. There weren’t any chores to do. The dog wasn’t scratching at the door to be let in or let out. The chickens weren’t clucking their announcement that AN EGG WAS ARRIVING AN EGG WAS ARRIVING AN EGG!!! And besides. I was at my mom’s. Aren’t you always supposed to feel like you can take a nap when you’re visiting your mom?
After we left, we went to a few shops at the mall in Silverdale, which is about 30 minutes from us. We tried on some cute Lucky ankle boots at Marshalls that didn’t work, and peeked at the girls’ and boys’ sections before seeing that they didn’t carry any bootcut jeans for Cora. Only skinny ones. Reams of skin-tight ones with itty bitty form-fitting ankles.
My daughter is entering 5th grade, and on our island that means that she’s going to a new intermediate school for 5th and 6th graders. She has a few simple opinions about her clothes this year: Fewer leggings, more jeans, and jeans that are bootcut or flare, and some ankle boots. That’s it. That’s what she likes. Pretty straightforward.
At DSW, we sorted through aisles of shoes and found a perfect pair of runners for Brooks, which he liked so much that he wore them out of the store and practiced his sprinting on the sidewalk.
But after a ton of looking through the sale racks, the kids’ racks, the adult racks, the Sam Edelmans and the Sperrys and the Sketchers and the Lucky and Guess and Uggs and Keds, we didn’t find anything for Cora. Both defeated and relieved, we left that store and headed over to Old Navy. I literally groaned out loud and asked the kids if we really needed to continue. I was already exhausted.
I know I’m preaching to the choir here. I know I’m not the only parent that finds malls and back-to-school shopping completely exhausting. But still. I was hating it. I mean, of course I was loving the time with them. Honestly, I do love that part of it. Searching for the thing that they will love is always fun. But all the packaged shoes. All the clothes. All the stuff.
We’ve spent months here purging unnecessary junk from our lives, and I still have a vivid picture of going to the dump this past June and watching a couple throw their entire blue sectional into a dumpster. An entire sectional. In the dump.
If you ever want to feel overwhelmed by stuff, go to the dump. The smell alone will make you see what we’re all trying to hide.
I am not an anti-garbage goddess, but I suppose I’d like to get there because I get it–I’m no different than you; I’ve seen the piles of junk sweltering our shorelines and killing our birds and our fish and our whales and–oh, dear, darling mama who carried her dead baby orca for 17 days as a talisman and a plea to us all: Stop, think, do it better, you’re killing us. All we need to do is look just a little bit and we can see the deadly cycle created by the newfound permission to buy-throw away-buy again.
It’s not that I don’t love a well-dressed home. Oh, I do. I love comforts and pillows and pictures and flowers and warmth, stacks and stacks of books and magazines and things that make you feel wrapped up in nostalgia. I do. I love it.
What do we need? What do we really need?
Do we need to stop for a minute and look at what we already have?
I do not claim to be holier than thou on this. We still have a lot of junk. We have definitely paid our fair share of dues to the dump, especially during our kitchen remodel, cutting up the road with our traipses to and from the dump with our trailer full of refuse. But I did spend a good amount of time sorting items: This goes to Goodwill. This goes to the Children’s Hospital Bargain Boutique. This goes on Buy Nothing Bainbridge (if you don’t know about the Buy Nothing worldwide project built on a gift economy, you can learn more here. As a last resort, this old, broken, rusty, impossible thing, this goes to the dump.
But watching people throw away giant pieces of furniture into a dump already full of broken glass and cat litter and broken lamp shades and lightbulbs caused a malaise that was impossible to ignore. I left the dump that day shaking with frustration.
We all know that sectional isn’t just disappearing into a poof of thin air. It’ll swelter for thousands of years in some landfill under piles of Keurig containers and plastic bags filled with dog poop and old foam mattresses and leftover sneakers and plastic bottles and old Tupperware and BPA-free bottles with misplaced lids and rusty nails and old insulation and ripped T-shirts and stained tea towels and broken vases bought on sale at TJ Maxx and diapers and those little individual plastic flossers that someone invented and someone approved.
I never wanted to buy another thing for as long as I lived. That’s how that day at the dump made me feel.
So. Back to yesterday. Here we were at these huge stores with massive lighting and tired salespeople and packages and packages of shoes that will fit our kids for like 3-5 months if we’re lucky. And we found one pair that worked. And our boy loves his new shoes. He is infinitely happy about them, because he can run fast in them. Oh boy, can he ever. Watch out, world.
At Old Navy, we made a beeline for the girls’ section and started thumbing through the jeans. Tables and tables of them. Dark wash, light wash, ripped, sparkly. All of them Super Skinny. Ballerina Cut. Rockstar. Teeny tiny ankles. NOT A SINGLE STYLE OTHER THAN SUPER SKINNY. I asked a salesperson if there are any other options of jeans for girls other than Super Skinny, and she explains, no: I need to order those online, and if I did it right then instead of at home I would get free shipping. Wait. Huh?
The entire reason we drove out to Silverdale was because my daughter wanted to try on the jeans, not just order them online. Old Navy and Marshalls seemed a reasonable first stop before heading to Seattle. It had never even occurred to me to call ahead to see if those stores offered more than one style of jeans. Never.
I would have just ordered them online at home. But it seems that the drive to Old Navy would give us free shipping on jeans we couldn’t even try on?
The boys’ section is not like this. It’s a reasonable situation. There are pairs of jeans with straight legs and easy fit and slim and something called Flex Max. They say they have “Perfect-fitting jeans down to a science (and an art).”
But only for the boys.
This drives me bonkers.
This feels like some odd insanity.
Tables and tables and tables of….The same jeans.
Only for girls.
We decided to leave. We bought a package of socks, 3 bottles of water because at this point we were all totally thirsty and grumpy, and we spent $21. That’s $12 worth of plastic bottles filled with water for three tired shoppers, and just shy of $10 for a bundle of socks.
As I drove home, I considered why I was so upset. $21 isn’t realistically that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. We are in a space of some ability to afford what we want and need. This is true. This is something I do not forget any day. That $21 bought us $12 worth of three soon-empty plastic bottles that will need to be recycled, and some socks.
That $21 could have fed a family.
But $21 worth of seeds planted in rich soil on our land could feed a food bank.
That’s the goal. That’s where we want to be.
Maybe $21 will be the new litmus test in our lives when planning for the future. We can ask ourselves: How much does that cost? What could we do with it instead? And if we spend it now, will it help? If we grow it first, will it help more?
We’re not rich beyond our wildest dreams, or anything close to that. Brian goes to work everyday. I stay home with the kids and clean the house and grow and cook our food. I want to live debt-free by saving buckets of money that we’d otherwise spend on fancy food. There’s still the mortgage to contend with, but we own our used cars and are aiming to live a simple life. It’s an evolving process and we’re learning as we go.
I am thinking about this. I am thinking about it a lot.
The bigbox store experience made me want to sew all my own clothes and buy everything online. Isn’t that the opposite of what a store is supposed to make you feel?
As we’re driving home from the mall in a sky still masked by smoke from weeks of forest fires in our region and beyond, I found myself announcing something to the kids:
“You know what, guys? I think living on our farm has changed me a lot more than I realized it would.” And I paused and hastened to add, in the same way I am adding here, that I didn’t want them to think that everything came back to our vegetable garden.
But for now, in year 2.3 of this project, it kind of does.
The garden is packed full of veggies that I chose because of their variation, and many of them are there because I plan to preserve them for the long winter months ahead when nothing will really grow out there. I am doing this because I love food. I love the way it tastes when it is fresh and wild and full of sunshine and flavor from the land outside our window. The tomatoes and squash, cucumbers and peppers, eggplant and corn, parsnips and pears, apples and plums, blackberries and hazelnuts, are busy growing fat and happy through the daily cycles of sunrise and sunset, and I am dreaming up the next ratatouille and chunky minestrone and apple cobbler I am going to make.
Brian and I built the garden beds using crazy-rich soil that was dumped in our driveway and carted wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow or bucket by bucket in a rented tractor over to piles of sticks we culled from pruning 100-year-old plum, apple, and pear trees that are producing fruit like they are on steroids.
I could just as easily achieve this experience on a plot of land in the middle of nowhere while living in a shelter of sticks. It’s that simple. It’s the food, and the simplicity, and the self-sufficiency, and the timelessness that has hooked me.
It’s more than enough. It makes my heart burst.
Yesterday night, after putting the kids to bed and snuggling into bed next to a lamp and a bedside table we’ve moved from place to place for 10 years, I picked up my copy of Braiding Sweetgrass, which my best friend from college sent me months ago, and which I’ve quoted at the start of this post. I dug into the next chapter, and paused to reflect: Every word I read from Robin Wall Kimmerer’s chapter Allegiance to Gratitude was about gratitude, and naming the things we are grateful for, and specifically the things we are grateful for in the natural world.
Because when you do that, when you are grateful to the air, and the rain, and the trees, and the nuts, and the fruit, and the rivers, and the gardens, and the birds: you see that we have enough. We have more than enough:
“Imagine raising children in a culture in which gratitude is the first priority….’It reminds you every day that you have enough,’ [says Freida Jacques]. ‘More than enough. Everything needed to sustain life is already here. When we do this, every day, it leads us to an outlook of contentment and respect for all of creation'” (Kimmerer, 111).
And when something is amiss, and we can see it, it is our responsibility to fix it:
“Cultures of gratitude must also be cultures of reciprocity. Each person, human or no, is bound to every other in a reciprocal relationship. Just as all beings have a duty to me, I have a duty to them. If an animal gives its life to feed me, I am in turn bound to support its life. If I receive a stream’s gift of pure water, then I am responsible for returning a gift in kind. An integral part of a human’s education is to know those duties and how to perform them….Eagles were given the gift of far sight, so it is their duty to watch over us. Rain fulfills its duty as it falls, because it was given the gift of sustaining life. What is the duty of humans? If gifts and responsibilities are one, then asking “What is our responsibility?” is the same as asking “What is our gift?” It is said that only humans have the capacity for gratitude. That is among our gifts ” (Kimmerer, 115).
As I write this and am about to fill the page with photos of the food we are producing, I remember going tent to tent in downtown Seattle with friends and family, delivering food to the homeless a couple of winters ago.
One delivery took me up a hill to a tent that was sandwiched between Interstate-5 North and Interstate-5 South at the small triangular apex where the two directions meet. As I approached it, I saw a pair of kids’ pink shoes outside. If I could fully explain the emptiness that whooshed through me as I stood between 10 lanes of rushing traffic outside of someone’s flapping tent, chosen because it was flat and had a patch of grass, I want to didactically ask each and every one of you who has a semblance of a home to fall down on your knees and say thanks for the patch of land that’s yours.
That gratitude, that sense of fulfillment, that deep moment of connection to everything since the beginning of time that got you there, it’s yours. Let it fill you and let it change you. It will change how important it feels to have a brand name on your T-shirt or your car. It will change your desire to have a gift for someone that comes from a store instead of from your hands.
Maybe this way of thinking will help us all stop the utterly exhausting and ridiculous rat race once and for all of who has and who doesn’t, especially when it comes to our kids’ clothing.
It will change how you see the world and it will change how you see a kid going back to school wearing old, ankle-high jeans and ripped shoes. Chances are, they are still happy, because they have more than enough.
And if they don’t have enough, and you do, maybe it will start to shift your sense of responsibility for how to solve that issue. There. I said it. I had to say it.
We’re heading back to school. You can do one small thing today to make things easier for everyone in your community. Consider giving back-to-school items like backpacks, back-to-school clothes and shoes, lunchboxes and planners, even the fruit on your trees can be offered up for picking, to Buy Nothing in your local neighborhood. You just post it and someone gets it who needs it. It’s that simple.
Or consider, here on the island through the HelpLine House, donating to Project Backpack, making it easier for a kid to go back to school with the things they need to learn. Often, when you can feel the ache of having too little, a full backpack makes all the difference in the world. If you’re outside of Bainbridge, look at your local resources and local food banks by finding one near you in America and consider donating your extra veggies and cans of food. Every small bit helps make a stomach and mind feel fuller and more able to learn this autumn.
But, please, don’t buy them more junk, or junk food. We have enough of that already.
Yesterday, we had the most perfect endcap antidote to a busy day: Dinner with friends in their old farmhouse, surrounded by laughter and shouting kids and amazing food, including the most beautiful pesto I’ve tried, made by my friend from the forest of basil in her garden. Cora was excited to spend time with their baby, a seven-month-old darling who enjoyed liquid-gold breastmilk from a bottle and gave Cora the indescribable delight of feeding a baby. There is nothing, really, so satisfying as feeding a child.
Thanks for reading. I have a few recipes I’ll be posting later this weekend. Simple ones, using just a few ingredients. It’s how all the recipes on this blog are turning out to be: Not too many ingredients, but more than enough.